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Egyptian VP Predicts Drop in Economic Growth

An image grab taken from Egyptian state television Al-Masriya shows new Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman speaking during talks between the Egyptian regime and several opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Cairo on February 6, 2011

Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman says the ongoing political protests in the country will sharply cut its economic growth this year.

Suleiman, who is trying to convince protesters to end the demonstrations, said Wednesday that Egypt's economy might advance by 3.4 percent in 2011. In December, the government predicted 6 percent growth for 2011, but that was before the street protests started two weeks ago against the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak.

Analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said Egypt's annual economic growth could slow even more, perhaps to 1 or 2 percent. The Egyptian economy grew by 5 percent last year.

Thousands of workers at some key industries in Egypt walked off jobs or staged protests this week, apart from the Cairo-focused demonstrations against the government.

Suleiman told news agencies that the government would not be overthrown. He said that would "lead to chaos." Suleiman said talks between government officials and opposition groups were the first way to achieve stability.

Egypt's economy has not come to a complete halt with the protests, but the effects have been widespread. The government reported that about one million tourists fled the country in the first nine days of the protests. The vital Asia-to-Europe shipping link through the Suez Canal is still operating but 6,000 workers in the canal zone have started a sit-down strike.

Numerous international companies have shut their operations in Egypt and laid off workers. Norway's Statoil said it was no longer drilling in Egypt. The country's stock market is still closed and not scheduled to reopen until next Sunday.

Consumers are facing sharply higher prices, with meat prices quadrupling, and many shelves emptied at food stores.

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